It has been a great summer for cycling action here in Indianapolis. We are seeing great returns on our infrastructure investments, and our citizens are starting to embrace bicycle culture more enthusiastically. A good example of this was the Mass Ave Crit 2012 held last weekend.
Whipping around the Mass Ave triangle at full speed
The Mass Ave Crit is one of the most established races in the area, and it was a great turnout from spectators, fans, and cyclists. The event was blessed with beautiful weather and a lot of support from the community. I watched as many of the races as I could, and there was great action on every lap.
Mayor Ballard about to start another race
A pop-up biergarten from the generous sponsor
Celebrating the finish
So now that the MAC and IndyCrit are complete, we have one more event to look forward to. It’s going to be a big weekend in Fountain Square, and the weather is looking good for the first Fountain Square Grand Prix! And of course, this neighborhood is ready to usher in the bike race with a great lineup of music, food, and a big race.
FSGP is a great excuse to visit the neighborhood and the newly completed Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)
Concert Schedule at the bottom of this Indy Star article “Psyched in Fountain Square“. These are gonna be some great tunes.
Race map and race schedule on this flyer by Joe’s Cycles (and also an interview with Joe here). If you had any doubts about whether Fountain Square has “made it” as a neighborhood yet, just look at the sponsors at the bottom of that flyer. If you don’t recognize any of them, you need to be spending more time in this part of town because they all kick ass. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate summer cyling and the urban vibes that drive this neighborhood.
(image credit: Curt Ailes)
Welcome to Indianapolis, NFL fans
If anyone in the area has not been to the Superbowl Village (i.e. Georgia Street) you are missing out on a truly unique experience. This will be a watershed event, both for Indianapolis festival planning, as well as for the future of sporting events in the US. We have set the bar pretty high on this one.
Indy Cars at a cross-promotion for the Superbowl
Here are some photos I wanted to share with everyone. It’s only been up for a few days, so I can’t wait to see how it develops as we approach the weekend of the big game. See you all downtown!
Superbowl Village is centered around the pedestrianized Georgia Street
JW Marriott has their spirit on
A favorite activity is ziplining above the crowds
Indy's finest are on foot this week (keep up the good work guys!)
At night the village comes to life with music
The main stage
Bret Michaels rocked it on opening night
Former Colts player Hunter Smith taking the Pepsi Stage
The Village People were a big draw
People are loving this place
In honor of IndyGo’s decision to offer FREE bus rides during the final superbowl weekend, Urban Indy decided to put on our drinking caps and start exploring what routes might be useful for a visitor. The purpose was to provide a simple guide for anyone unfamiliar with the city and its bus system to explore some interesting neighborhoods while enjoying some good local beer and food.
We discussed potential routes and attractions, and debated what would be most worthwhile for someone making this trip. We concluded that the best option was to focus on a single route that hit some of the best places for nightlife in the city. We chose bus route #17, which can get passengers close to the Broad Ripple, College Ave, Mass Ave, and downtown nightlife districts in one single route.
We decided to test out this route last Saturday and it worked pretty well. The buses were on-time, clean, and full of friendly people. We added on a separate trip to Fountain Square at the end because of the new Fountain Square Brewery grand opening event, but in general the #17 line will offer more than enough choices for superfans.
But, please note there are some major caveats with this:
- Bus service in Indianapolis typically ends much earlier than you would expect. Always check the bus schedule for the day and time you want just to make sure there will be one available. I recommend starting farther away from downtown and working your way back, just so you have the option to stay a bit longer at the last stop and walk the rest.
- Indianapolis has a small number of buses and 30 minute headways on route #17, so plan ahead when ordering those beers and paying the tab.
If you decide not to do the bus #17 route, there will be some other options including a free shuttle service between the different areas with nightlife, walking/biking along the cultural trail, or taking a cab. Whatever you choose, enjoy it and be safe!
In the end, I hope anyone visiting these places has as much fun as we did. Here’s a sample of our night’s events:
One of my favorite parts of Indianapolis is Market Street. The east side of Market Street once hosted two really awesome buildings, the City Market building which is still there and Tomlinson Hall which was lost to fire in 1958.
A view of Tomlinson and City Market from the old County Courthouse
My experience with Tomlinson Hall began when I worked as the engineer for the City Market renovations. The market space was upgraded and people seem to love it. What a shame that we lost its companion so many years ago. There are still parts to admire including an old arch in the west wing plaza. But if you think that is the only part left, you might be surprised.
This arch is the last bit of Tomlinson Hall above ground
Pieces of Tomlinson Hall sit just below the West Wing plaza. And not just any random bits of structure, but one of the most impressive basements in Indiana. This place is special, and people in the city refer to it as the “the catacombs.”
A forest of brick columns
The barrel vaults and brick columns
The foundations of Tomlinson Hall were built using some amazing materials and construction techniques, which you just don’t come across often. The details of the masonry show an attention to detail and familiarity with brick and stone that is hard to replicate.
A lateral arch supports the barrel vault ceiling at a niche below the sidewalk
Some of Indy's best masonry work is hidden below ground
Although it was not in the scope for the latest renovations for City Market property, this is really cool asset that I hope the city finds a way to share with the public at some point.
A view of the massive cut-stone piers that once supported Tomlinson Hall
Recently, City Market opened a taproom on their mezzanine and named it in honor of Tomlinson Hall. The catacombs aren’t accessible by the public yet, but anyone can stop in at Tomlinson Taproom and celebrate it with a fresh, local pint of beer.
Footnote: You can watch a video tour of the catacombs on this Youtube video from 2009 (fast forward to 4:30).
It’s no secret that pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries have been rising in our cities. As more people explore active transportation options they are coming into conflict with vehicular traffic. A recent article on USA Today shows that this is a real problem and it is reaching a new level of visibility in the debate on transportation in the US.
Most people understand that the faster a vehicle is driving, the more dangerous it can be for pedestrians and people on bicycles. Risk is a combination of probability and consequence, and the data in the chart shows a surprising increase in the risk as the vehicular speed increases above 20 mph, as shown in the figure.
This data is well known amongst traffic engineers, and it causes them to design streets in a way that I don’t approve of. Instead of designing streets that encourage drivers to be more aware of pedestrians and to drive slower, they isolate cars into traffic sewers and funnel them through the city at high speeds. The problem is that this cuts up the city, street by street. Pedestrians have only the option of staying on their own block or sprinting madly across several lanes of traffic. We need a better system, one that recognizes that there are places for traffic segregation and there are places for traffic integration.
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. There are many successful models for building communities which are safe for pedestrians but preserve access for vehicles. You can look to the dutch “Woonerf” or “Shared Space concept.” The British have their own “Home Zone” initiative. But you can also find great examples here in Indianapolis. Our own Monument Circle is a fantastic place to see cars and vehicles negotiating space safely, and the finished Georgia Street is going to be a model for other cities for many years to come.
Georgia Street during construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)
The examples above are great for low speed interaction between cars and people, but we also have some great ideas when it comes to managing high-speed traffic issues. The Cultural Trail is designed to move a large amount of people on foot or on bike through downtown, and it really elevates active transportation to the same quality and accessibility that vehicles have.
Indy's Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)
These local examples show that there are two effective strategies for reducing pedestrian risks:
- establish pedestrian zones where cars and people interact at very slow speeds – do this for both commercial and residential areas with local traffic
- establish arterial zones where cars and people are segregated – give people and cars separate facilities where the speeds are too dangerous for mixing
Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and let someone else do the thinking. TED videos are about “ideas worth spreading”, and you can see them all for free at this link. If anyone has some downtime and wants some food for thought, I recommend the following TED talks that are all relevant to urbanism:
Jaime Lerner: A discussion of the promise of cities from the former Mayor of Curitibia, most famous for his BRT system.
Emily Pilloton: she discusses her design/build classes in rural NC, and how to leverage community assets into rebuilding a city.
James Howard Kunstler: he is famous for dismissing suburbs as “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world”, and he has some interesting observations to share.
Majora Carter: A discussion of Environmental Justice as it impacts an urban NYC neighborhood.
Ellen Dunham-Jones: A discussion of some ways to convert existing suburban developments into more more urban patterns.
Norman Foster: The world famous architect discusses his understanding of sustainability.
Stewart Brand: An environmentalist focuses on the most important issues facing the world, with some really interesting stories about cities, slums, and the future of society.
David Macaulay: A celebration of the Rome, the eternal city, as told by a famous artist/author through the eyes of his creations.
Robert Neuwirth: Another discussion of slums and their impact on the future of our cities.
Finally, I wanted to include a link from Squint Opera. This viz studio does some of the best work in modern architectural communications. See some of it at this link.
The people who run our cities … think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit, which makes their opinion worthless. The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. -Banksy, Wall and Piece, 2005
It is a common idea these days for politicians to speak of running a city like a company. What a stupid idea. Just when we abandon the failed idea of living in a machine, we unfortunately embrace the dystopian vision of a for-profit public realm.
Indianapolis has been privatizing public space for a long time now. The parking issue is just the latest signal that our city leaders are willing to sell out the future of our city for a few coin now. The civic leaders justify this by preaching the gospel of market efficiency, but conveniently forget that what we gain in efficiency we lose in equity, community, and harmony.
While some believe it is a foregone conclusion that government fails at every task, the real story is hardly that simple. We all know that 90% of small businesses in the US fail within 5 years, but this doesn’t mean we should abolish private ventures, it only means that success is hard to achieve. The same is true in the public world.
Our government is merely a reflection of our own abilities and values. When a public effort fails it does not prove anything other than the people in that community did not have the skills, resources, or fortune to get it done. Indianapolis has always been a community of visionaries and hard workers, and they built a great city for us. There is no greater shame for a politician than to turn their back on this heritage and champion the sale of our public assets.
Natural places have a role to play in our neighborhoods. The best urban sites share space with nature so well that you can not tell when the bricks stop and the trees begin. Whether it is a chestnut tree in a courtyard or an old street lined with elms, nature has to be present or our cityscape is unsatisfactory.
The beautiful streets of Lockerbie Square did not happen by accident
Michigan Street in Irvington with sidewalk and tree canopy
The ability to incorporate natural spaces into our neighborhood is often limited by our choices in infrastructure. We refuse to plant trees along streets because it is considered dangerous for drivers (even though its much safer for pedestrians). Once we convince ourselves that trees are a good idea we find that the power company “tops” them to keep the power lines free of limbs.
Using alleyways or underground wiring can solve part of the problem. But even then our arborist friends are thwarted, sometimes because steam pipes rot tree roots (even wonder why we have so few trees downtown?) or the city starts poisoning vegetation to save on costs (checked out Robert D. Orr Plaza lately?).
A small street near Pleasant Run Creek has kept its natural appeal
Integrating nature into our neighborhoods doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be an explicit strategy that is aggressively pursued and maintained. It must have support from everyone in a community, from the family next door all the way to the deputy mayor. Otherwise, we end up in a desert of concrete and asphalt.
Using natural elements in our city improves our quality of life. But some places deserve the right to remain natural. Sometimes the beauty of an area overwhelms us and we realize that we can’t improve it. The Kyle Oak in Irvington is just such a place. The Kyle family loved their Bur Oak so much, that they abandoned and bulldozed their home rather than put the tree at risk.
Meet the oldest resident of Irvington
The tree limbs span time and space
People need access to nature to stay healthy
While the Kyle Oak is a unique example of nature in our neighborhoods, there are opportunities all around us that we should be taking advantage of. Pocket parks reclaimed from shuttered houses, community gardens, tree-lined avenues and shopping streets, or wildflower meadows instead of lawns. Let’s get serious about inviting nature to live with us.
A wrinkled carcass reminds us that trees grow old and pass like all things in nature
Public investment in transportation infrastructure is what Indianapolis is all about, and is still known as the “Crossroads of America” because of it. The investment in transportation infrastructure started early with the canals, picked up speed with rail (including the first ever Union Station), and continued when Indy became a key part of the National Road, our first federal highway. More recently the best new airport terminal in the US was opened.
We have our intercity transportation and freight pretty well figured out, but now it’s time to get our local transit in order. Multi-modal solutions give people options about where and how to live, and make cities more resilient to the challenges of the future. But we seem to have prioritized low density auto-oriented growth for so long that we have lost our urban identity. We’re not seen as the crossroads of America anymore, we’re just another decaying donut.
For those of us who were expecting big things from IndyConnect, the unveiled plan has been met with strong debate. A program that was sold to the community as a vision for the future is really just a mirror showing us as we already exist – a capital city afraid of its collaborative, urban origins and rapidly trying to reinvent itself as the sprawling, low-cost leader of the midwest.
Where will Indy rank on this list in 30 years?
IndyConnect is a chance to come together as a regional community and decide our destiny. Unfortunately, the plan currently up for review is not very inspiring. The controversial decision to switch out LRT for buses appears to be political rather than economic, as previous studies and case studies have shown the regional benefits would easily justify the costs. I question the decision to use BRT, because the sponsors threw away the support of the biggest pool of users to get… well let’s just say I don’t see any Tea Partiers jumping on board with this plan because of its lower cost.
But even if the LRT option had survived, would that have been enough to call this plan a “vision”? Not at all. When you look at the mass transit portion, the plan only recommends purchase of some new vehicles, polishing up some old train hardware, and striping some roads. It’s a superficial marketing brochure that won’t significantly address livability in Indianapolis. We can’t solve this problem by throwing money at it, we’re gonna have to dig deeper. Policy reform has to be front and center, and that debate is much more important than whether or not we use light rail, commuter rail, or bus rapid transit.
It's not the bus or LRT that appeals to people, its the urban attitude
If IndyConnect really wants to lay the groundwork for a city that can use transit, then we need to decide to stop exclusively designing our cities for cars. Buses are not the building block of a transit system, the pedestrian is. A transformative vision of Indianapolis is needed now, so here is a twelve step plan to make Indianapolis a haven for transit before a single track is ever laid:
- Pedestrianize – Begin and end ALL planning from the perspective of a pedestrian (ALL planning! – transportation, land use, urban design, civic assets)
- Don’t fool yourself – buses will never capture mode share from cars, and rail doesn’t help much either unless there is an incentive to use it
- Induced demand is real – accept vehicular congestion, because you can’t build your way out of it
- Laser, not shotgun – don’t try to accommodate the entire region with transit, because transit is expensive and should only serve areas designed for it like streetcar suburbs, old rail stops, and centralized corridors
- No Robert Moses needed – accept that communities are more important than the transportation solutions running through them
- Be unselfish – design the transportation system for the next generation and the problems they will face
- Create value – don’t be afraid to use rail based transit to create special areas in the city, but beware of doing the same in suburbs because that will empty the city (population follows public investment) into areas that don’t want and can’t accommodate the extra load on their limited services
- Be inclusive – integrate pedestrians and bicyclists into the traffic system rather than forcing them onto recreational pathways
- Respect the car – well behaved cars and drivers deserve a place in the city, car-free zones are a bad idea and represent a failure of integration
- Reward density - land use and transit should support “density done right” because a walkable urban environment produces happy, socially wealthy individuals
- Slow it down – convert urban highways to slower streets, because if the traffic is too fast for sidewalk cafes, merging bicycle traffic, and people crossing the street then you are doing it wrong
- Restore the Cityscape – accept that our city was better before the interstates arrived, and it will be better when they are removed
Indianapolis as a city was never perfect, but it was never more imperfect than the day we decided that cars could solve all of our problems. We purposefully excluded anyone who can’t drive or afford a car from participating in civic life, killed off small businesses, and enslaved future generations to volatile energy costs.
Now we are about to sell off our ability to control parking supply and pricing, our most important urban development tool, and yet our leaders still fail to realize how that is related to transportation in the city. There are a hundred other issues that we hammer all the time on this website but haven’t been addressed yet, including: curb radii, tree canopies, excess lane widths, unnecessary one-way streets, missing sidewalks, urban design regulatory problems, and privatization of the public realm.
How will BRT, LRT, or Commuter Rail solve these issues? They can’t. In reality, a lot of people have problems walking to the bus stop because the city is so impermeable to pedestrians. The number of new pedestrian bridges going in downtown is a great indicator that we still haven’t solved the walkability issue in our most important places.
The debate over IndyConnect should be a debate over walkability and the role of the pedestrian. Policy reform must be at the top of the agenda. Think education and consensus building rather than bus routes and transit maps. I support IndyConnect. This is what progress looks like. But IndyConnect must explicitly address walkability or it will fail.
Here at Urban Indy we wanted to give our reactions to the big IndyConnect unveiling and let our readers do the same. An in-depth review of the plan from Urban Indy will be coming later, but here is a collection of our responses after the initial press release. The plan is online at IndyConnect.org and represents the 25 year vision of the Indy MPO responsible for regional transportation planning.
The latest plan from Indy Connect
I will be the first person to say that the latest unveiling represents a letdown when we were all looking forward to a light rail system to address economic development, regional vitality and increased mobility. Fresh off a trip to Portland I have seen the top of the mountain and it is awesome. However, here in Indy we have such a small share of transit ridership, that building support for a long term rail system is key. Implementing the latest unveiling while not shiny and sexy, will improve the system for existing users, pull in potential riders who are on the fence, and offer some incentives to those who would never use in the form of some congestion mitigation. This step up could build a great platform for the next generation long term transit plan. If Indianapolis can continue recent success in the business arena as it has for years now, this transit plan could compliment that success and in 20 years, when a successful transit share has been built, a much more robust rail growth plan could be hatched. The next step will be difficult in helping to educate people just why this plan has a silver lining that isn’t initially obvious.
Neither the original nor this updated Indy Connect plan is a perfect implementation of mass transit for Indianapolis. Instead, they represent a balance of the needs of the region with what is favorable to the low tax, low service culture of the Central Indiana Region. This disappoints mass transit and rail advocates because they know how good things could be, and how our region needs to have an eye on the economic, societal and environmental need for a proper mass transit system. This is not the proposal I would have put forth, but given the constraints on the Indy Connect team, I think this is a plan that brings our transportation system to an acceptable service level at a price point that has a chance for approval from the electorate. It’s far from inspiring, but it works.
While improving our bus system is a good idea, more bike and pedestrian pathways are great, and having some investment in rail and light rail is better than none, this plan doesn’t have enough “Indy” in it to truly reform one of our city’s greatest transit problems – a lack of “choice” riders, especially within our urban core. The proposed plan’s focus on serving suburban areas with the “coolest” forms of transit incentivizes suburban and exurban housing choices. Meanwhile, the people most likely to make the choice of utilizing transit options, those who are choosing to live and work in our actual city, are provided with an upgrade on a system that is not winning over new riders in its current iteration. The proposed IndyConnect plan is definitely an improvement, but it’s not bold, it’s not visionary, and – without a major branding overhaul of our bus system – it’s unlikely to spur significant improvement in the area of choice ridership. And, a quick query: why is this transit plan up for so much debate, while the much more expensive plans to upgrade bridges and roads, as well as expand roads, are not topics for public debate or analysis? Why do we evaluate “new” so much more stringently than we evaluate “old”?
I’m encouraged by the prospect of more frequent bus service in the areas which need it the most . The first release of Indy Connect had few specifics with regards to inner city connectivity, which this version serves to correct. I’m discouraged that the city is pulling back from the Washington Street light rail proposal, when most of us at Urban Indy were hoping that the city would add a College Avenue streetcar to the fledgling system. Eighty percent of the money goes to expanding roads and fixing bridges in the suburban areas, which (outside of needed repairs) is throwing good money after bad. Regardless, I hope that this plan will give the city the framework it needs to make future changes and improvements.
I’m definitely not anti-bus. From a pure transit perspective, we can do so much in Indy with the additional of express buses, circulators, and BRT’s. An expanded bus system can reach more people than rail.
I’m definitely not anti-rail either. There are situations that a street car, light rail, or commuter rail would be beneficial. Washington Street is a great example of a prime light rail/street car corridor.
The biggest issues with buses: how well the system is executed and operated; getting past the local stigma of buses; maximizing the use of technology; getting around the traffic congestion problems that plague our streets and highways; and encouraging development along bus corridors and around bus system hubs.
While transit oriented development will not be as great with a improved bus system, the potential is there if investment is made into stops and hubs where multiple routes converge.
As a multi-modal mass transit adovcate, I am particularly dissapointed with the updated IndyConnect plan. While a strong bus service is essential in any regional transit system, the BRT model that the IndyConnect team is championing has not been proven effective in significantly increasing transit ridership in North America. On the other hand, urban rail transit (light rail, streetcars) has. Ultimately, that is what we were hoping to see more of from the revised IndyConnect plan – real urban transit that encourages urban development and creates those great ‘places’ that can come it. Instead, any remnant of the word ‘urban’ was stripped away, leaving us with a mass transit system ‘vision’ that only sees Indianapolis as it is instead of what it could be. And in the end, this is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the new plan. With a strong urban-oriented mass transit plan, Indianapolis would position itself as a region of transit oriented development, of urban places, and of sustainable transportation, something that would differentiate itself from the car-dominated culture of the Midwest. Instead, the current IndyConnect plan will set the city up for continued Midwest mediocrity, thus crippling its ability of becoming a bigger and better version of its current self.
For as much as transit has been discussed in the press releases and official statements, there is surprisingly little of it in the plans. No, this is a plan to fund highway construction. Other than some minor reuse of rail lines, Indy will still be missing a useful mass transit system and encouraging sprawl development. This is also a missed opportunity to change the outdated policies, lack of vision, and livability aspects that must be dealt with in the transportation realm. Instead of real city development, Indianapolis citizens will be sponsoring repair and extensions of highways that never should have been built to begin with. The MPO should plan for what Indianapolis will need in 25 years from now, and this won’t get us anywhere fast. With the majority of the population and the business community asking for a real solution, I say put the best plan on the table and don’t stop short.